With the third week in placements done and dusted, we’re officially half way through the project! How on earth has that happened already..?

We got the week off to a good start by working on a public holiday (aren’t we saints), heading into Nelspruit and filling in lots of bits of paperwork, planning our workshop for Tuesday and getting started on working out how Mid Project Review is going to happen next week. There’s always loads to do, and a three-day weekend is a good way to get some of it out of the way without feeling guilty about either working on our days off, or not going out and doing things on our working days. This time we weren’t faced with a water/toilet crisis in Mugg & Bean, so we stayed there for over 4 hours… we eventually looked up from our laptops to realise that the whole café had been packed up around us, with every stool up on the tables and not another customer to be seen. Oops.

Rachel and I have managed to spend about 96% of our past 5 and a half weeks together without murdering each other, which I consider to be a pretty significant achievement in itself. We’ve learnt a lot about each other: for example I now know that and that by half past 8 at night she suddenly develops a complete inability to remember any polysyllabic words, and she knows that I hum tunelessly in awkward situations when I don’t know what to do with myself. Slowly but surely our thoughts are merging: by the end of the project, we are actually going to be the same person.

It’s been another hectic week, where we’ve fit in more than we would ever have believed possible every day. Take Thursday, for example. We woke up having allowed ourselves a bit of a lie in (til 6.30!), and were planning on going to Nelspruit for the morning as we didn’t have much to do. Within half an hour of waking up we’d decided that actually, it made more sense to stay around Lekazi – and by the end of that day, we’d gone into two schools and observed volunteers in their lessons, arranged 4 mid-project review meetings for next week, met both the relevant circuit heads in the department of education (at last!!), popped in to have a chat with the Chief of Msogwaba, had a meeting with Nutty from ORT, been invited to an engagement party by Nontobeko from the Msogwaba library, and finally met up with all the volunteers for a review of the week (and some KFC). And that was a day when we ‘didn’t have much to do’.

It gets to the weekend so quickly here – which can sometimes be a relief, admittedly, but it also means the days are passing so quick that it feels like we might not accomplish everything we want to in the time we have. Or at least, that it wouldn’t be possible to do so without going a bit insane with the sheer workload.

This weekend has been pretty awesome. And weird. But mostly awesome. Saturday we headed out for our first substantial group trip, to the Blyde River Canyon. We arranged it through our best pal Netto, who told us when we rang him on Friday that transport price was 470 Rand, ‘plus a big tip for the driver’ – no prizes for guessing who the driver was. We set off from Clara’s at about 9 in the morning, with a drive-time announcement from Netto: ‘If you want to stop anywhere to take a picture, just let me know. If you think I’m driving too fast… Sorry, I’m South African.’

The Blyde River Canyon is the third largest in the world, apparently, and it’s also the greenest. As far as I could tell, it was indeed very large, and green. We stopped off at various points along the route: Mac-mac falls, Pinnacle Rock, God’s Window, Bourke’s potholes, Lisbon falls, and another viewpoint thingy with an Afrikaans name. That last was probably my favourite (although evidently its name didn’t leave much of a lasting impression). The view was incredible, but the water that sat 900m below was the best part; water that was so amazingly blue that you almost felt like the 900 metre drop would be worth it just for a swim. Netto did then slightly ruin my daydream by casually mentioning that there were hippos and crocodiles living in that same water, and it didn’t seem so appealing after that. Bourke’s potholes were also pretty cool; naturally carved pools of water, caused by water erosion – not a bad place to wash your feet after a long sweaty bus ride.

Netto obviously made a great tour guide, protecting us from the hordes of mildly drunk students on some kind of college trip (not that April needed protecting, grinning away happily in all of the photos they took with her), walking us round all the best spots (with flagrant disregard for the numerous ‘Do Not Go Beyond This Point’ signs), and taking us to a pancake place afterwards (for ‘lunch’, at 4 o’clock). It was a pretty great day.

We were very kindly all dropped off at our respective homestays, and Rachel and I were all geared up for our planned film night (yay weekend!). However, our plans were forestalled when Toockey came and asked me to ‘go and open the gate, to let the people in.’ Somewhat bemused as to who these ‘people’ were and why they were coming to our house on a Saturday night, I did as she asked, and had none of my questions answered by the scene I was met with: a large group of around 25 people all pouring in through the front gate, through the front door and into the house. We had no idea what was going on, so decided to try and stay out of the way until they’d all settled in – and it wasn’t until the singing started and Toockey came to invite us along that we realised that OBVIOUSLY it was a church healing ceremony (duh). As it turned out, the elders of the church had come round to use their powers of faith to heal Toockey of her recent illness. She went home early from school on Friday because she wasn’t feeling well. She also has a bad tooth which has been bothering her for a while. It wasn’t entirely clear which of these ailments merited a visit from the pastor and half the congregation, but whichever it was, the elders took their healing duty very seriously and solemnly set about making miracles.

There was a bit of singing, then some very loud and fervent praying where we all had to stretch out our hands towards Toockey to send the power of Jesus into her, and then the pastor anointed her with holy oil. She made a little speech afterwards to thank everyone and then they all left. It was altogether very odd. But an interesting end to the day – it seems in Toockey’s church that if you can’t make it to church, the church will come to you. It’s about 58 times more fun than any church I’ve ever been to in the UK, bar none.

The next day once again left little promise of a lie in, as it was the day for our lunch date with the chief. It’s been a looming event on the calendar since we arranged it, weeks ago, with the promise of awkward conversation and a logistical nightmare in trying to get there – but we pulled it off, and with great success!

Once we arrived, we were introduced to the chief’s wife, two daughters and niece, and sat around making polite if slightly stilted conversation for a while. Thankfully this was shortlived, and we were then shown out into his garage, where we were treated to an incredible show of traditional dancing and singing. It was genuinely one of the highlights of the trip so far – and that’s saying something! I took lots of photos and videos, which will inevitably have failed to do justice to the reality. The photos didn’t stop there, either: after the performance we were entreated upon to take photos with pretty much every member of the troupe, on about 8 different photographic devices, with the chief steadfastly unsmiling in every single one. He’s a much happier man in real life.

That done, there was an interminable wait for the food, which we were very much looking forward to – patience is a virtue that I wish I had. We felt a bit awkward as well upon learning that the overrunning of the chief’s lunch with us meant that he was late for a meeting with some other members of the royal family about an ongoing court case… oops.

All in all though, a very good day. It’s not often that you get to meet a member of the Swazi royal family – but for a Tenteleni project coordinator it’s just another day in the life! It’s lucky that we’re going to Kruger park next weekend – I don’t know that much else could top this one…